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Guest Blogger Jordan Etherington: A Review of Dianne Linden’s On Fire

On Fire is a young adult novel that has a solid storyline and interesting characters, along with an accurate and well thought out portrayal of someone living with Tourette Syndrome. While I thought the novel had a weak first act, I enjoyed the second half greatly. The story begins with 14-year-old Matti Iverly, a girl with Tourette Syndrome living in wildfire country. The exact location was not clear, but it is somewhere in the mountains, perhaps Tennessee or surrounding areas. Matti’s life changes when she finds a man only a few years older than her, covered in burns, and without any memory of who he really is. From there on, On Fire focuses on this man’s care, the search to uncover who this man really is, and how Matti deals with life changes that happen suddenly during the summer wildfires. I appreciated Linden’s use of multiple narrators, which exposed the reader to both of the main characters’ perspectives rather than just one or the other. I particularly enjoyed how Linden even changed how the writing flowed depending on the narrator.  With that said, I feel the beginning portion of On Fire verges on clumsy at times. Matti’s perspective early on in the novel feels extremely simple and her actions feel too bizarre to engender much sympathy. Lindens characterization of Matti definitely improves, but the readers’ introduction to the story’s different characters was hamstrung by the fact that Matti reacts to these characters in unexpected ways without any explanation. I assume her reactions were due to social isolation caused by her TS. However, even with that understanding, I still felt that Matti came across as strange and random, which made it hard for me to truly get a hold on her character. Ironically, Matti’s character becomes much more clear and distinct when she is seen from the perspective of the amnesiac character, who is given the name Dan after Dante of the Divine Comedy. Dan’s narrative sections were, I felt, the best parts of the book because of the way that Linden interweaves his mental illness and trauma with the narrative. Linden matter-of-factly describes his hallucinations as reality, and the ambiguity of what is real and what isn’t leads to an almost supernatural atmosphere. For example, at one point a person who has been walking with Dan suddenly tells him that it is okay to break into his own cabin while a mob of dead people stare at him from a distance. Linden’s storytelling here was simultaneously strange, inventive, and yet well defined at the same time. I really enjoyed it. Of course, I could not end this review without a discussion of the story’s portrayal of having Tourette Syndrome, which I thought was very well done. Matti’s TS is present in the story often enough to keep it from just being a throw away attribute. At the same time, though her TS is portrayed as part of what makes Matti unique, it never becomes her one defining trait. Matti acts like a teenager—she wants to be independent, likes boys, and enjoys going on the bus because she can go anywhere she wants by herself, whenever she wants. As a reader who also happens to have TS, Linden’s descriptions of how Matti’s tics feel came across as very genuine to me. For example, Matti describes a tic as feeling like a sneeze that can be delayed, but ultimately must eventually be released. I have no doubt this description would resonate with others with TS in addition to me. In conclusion, I recommend On Fire, but with the caveat that the first impression that one gets from the story is likely to be underwhelming. Still, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I ended up liking it in the end, and I hope it surprises readers of this review as well. Jordan Etherington is a guest blogger for the Tourette Blog. He has a degree in Sociology and is currently studying Criminology. Have a question for Jordan? Email tsfc@tourette.ca

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